The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

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The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby nycaqb1999 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 10:36 pm

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I’m a quizbowl novice in the most basic sense: I founded my team in December 2016, and we attended our first tournament in February 2017. All in all, I’ve been playing quizbowl for less than a year. Therefore, I do not claim to write about the sport with any authority or definiteness, and with no accuracy beyond my own experience. Anyone reading this should feel free to correct me in the comments thread below, I will take no offence whatsoever. In this short treatise, I wish only to offer up a picture of my little corner of the world (New York City) and the quizbowl circuit therein. In doing so, I hope to begin a discussion regarding the ways in which quizbowl can be promoted in America’s largest city.

First of all, I would like to make one thing clear: quizbowl doesn’t necessarily have a cities problem. 10% of Americans live in our 20 most populous cities. Keeping this statistic in mind and using the PACE NSC as an example, it follows that a field of 96 teams should have around 9-10 teams from these 20 cities. In 2017, there were 13 such teams from 11 schools, meaning cities were actually slightly overrepresented. Therefore, this is not a thread on quizbowl in urban areas, as I don’t feel I have enough expertise to write such a thread. My major point is that I think that (from my modest perspective) quizbowl has a New York City problem.

On the surface, Greater New York City is a quizbowl wonderland. Fred Morlan’s study of quizbowl and MSAs shows that our area has the greatest number of tournaments in the country (21 tournaments in the 2016-2017 season). Make no mistake, this is really fantastic. Look a bit closer, though, and we can see something troubling. Out of those 21 tournaments, only 5 were located within New York City itself, 3 at Columbia University and 2 at Hunter College High School. In terms of the participants in these tournaments, they are almost entirely suburban. For example, 23 schools participated in Columbia Fall, but only 6 of those were from within city limits. In New York City, most teams, and therefore most tournaments, are suburban. In my opinion, this is incredibly unfortunate.

Taking stock of the currently active teams within city limits is, sadly, a very simple task: Hunter is coming off of two Nats wins and is an excellent and established team by any standard, Regis has been around a while, Trinity’s long established program has been attending tournaments with renewed vigor, Bard has been recently founded (and pretty decent for its age if I can be a proud father for a moment), Cardinal Spellman’s program is also fairly newish, and Bronx Science and Stuyvesant compete irregularly in tournaments (If I’ve missed anyone, or made mistakes in characterizing these teams, which I’m sure I have, please comment below). In other words, the pool of teams in New York City, which has the largest student population in the country, is very low. It’s not difficult to name the nationally-recognized schools without quizbowl. On the public side, we have Brooklyn Tech, HSAS Lehman, Staten Island Tech, LaGuardia, Beacon, Townsend Harris, Eleanor Roosevelt, HSMSE@CCNY, and BHSEC Queens. On the private side, we have St. Ann’s, Packer, Horace Mann, Riverdale, Trevor Day, Dalton, Collegiate, and Poly Prep. There are dozens more schools in New York of intense rigor which are ripe for quizbowl. Our aim should be to put a team in each one of these schools.

It’s not a pipe dream. Last year’s NYC Science Olympiad had around 44 schools participating. Our city’s interscholastic math league has 20 participating schools. The Urban Debate League counts over 100 schools as members (up from less than 10 in 2011). Speaking as the Secretary-General of Bard’s club, Model UN is an almost omnipresent force in the city. This level of participation shows us that New York City schools have a serious interest in academic competitions, and that it is possible to expand quizbowl’s reach dramatically.

The question is, how do we expand quizbowl in NYC? I’ll be perfectly honest: I have no idea! I’m essentially clueless on this front. It’s important to remember that NYC is incredibly fertile ground for quizbowl’s expansion. We have a world-class team in Hunter, a multitude of challenging schools which make up a High School student body larger than Samoa (which is small, but still), and two highly-regarded college teams in Columbia and NYU. Transforming these factors into a thriving circuit will take time, grit, and moxie (not the icky Maine soda, but the thing that’s like determination). Whatever the cost, it’s worth working towards a future where attending a tournament means a 30 minute subway ride, not a 90 minute drive; where a NYC school can mirror the same set as a suburban tournament, and both venues can count on a full field; and where quizbowl will take its rightful place in the pantheon of academic activities amongst debate and Model UN. To kickstart this process, I’ve been talking to Jake Fisher (Trinity) to set up some kind of organization to coordinate existing teams and help set up new ones. We would love it if the other New York City teams jumped on board. Once again, I’m a novice (also an 18 year old senior, so I have some idea how the world works) so I don’t know exactly how this will shake out, or if I’m totally off-base here, but I know this is a good cause. Shoot me or Jake a message if you’re interested, and I look forward to this journey. As is our state’s motto, Excelsior!


Special thanks to Jake Fisher being a fellow newish NYC captain, Antonella Dec-Pratt for introducing me to quizbowl in the first place, Fred Morlan for that nifty piece on quizbowl in MSAs, and Matt J. for his “Big Vision” series, whose optimistic tone this post borrows heavily from.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby notchole » Wed Sep 20, 2017 10:56 pm

One of my senior year classes is actually an internship with Hunter's vice principal which has a couple of different goals, but one of them is analyzing gender distribution in Quiz Bowl throughout the country, with a particular focus on the New York area (because the rest of the project focuses on extracurriculars of various types in the specialized high schools). Although I'm not DIRECTLY focusing on expanding Quiz Bowl into new schools in NYC, I'm really hoping I gain some insight into why more city teams don't exist, and why those that do tend to have less established programs with less willingness to travel outside the city. Until that point, I honestly think one of the best things to do is try to talk to friends from other schools. Abishrant, our science player, has actually convinced at least one (I think two) of his out-of-school friends to found teams. The other important thing I can think of right off the bat is building up the reputation of Quiz Bowl within pre-existing programs in NYC (i.e. our own schools). Despite winning consecutive nationals and attending a school chock full of nerds, we here at Hunter still find ourselves frequent objects of derision, so we're working on turning that image around. Especially among the specialized high schools, so many people know so many people that a change in a few hundred students' attitudes, even when concentrated in one school, can have a ripple effect. I agree, though, that there's lots more we can do, and I welcome any advice! Looking forward to hopefully working with you to spread QB across the five boroughs, and to seeing you around the circuit this year.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby nycaqb1999 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:24 pm

Thanks for replying Chloe; getting right to the point, you are totally right that the ripple effect is super-duper important in expanding quizbowl. Right now, there are probably less than 100 high schoolers in NYC who play quizbowl regularly. One or two strong programs at well-known (hopefully large) schools that are currently uninvolved (e.g. BK Tech, Lag, etc.) can raise a ton of awareness for the sport. Hunter has the incredible luxury of a 6 year program, but imagine if someone's little sibling was able to start a middle school team? Alumni from that team would go on to a whole host of other high schools, which could result in the organic founding of new teams. A couple of sparks could start a big fire here, and its not impossible that we could see a totally distinct metro circuit in 5-6 years. I'll see you around the circuit, and I look forward to meeting the team in person.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby monty » Thu Sep 21, 2017 4:48 pm

The same can be said about many places in the Tri-State area. While there are a ton of suburban school teams, many still are reluctant to form academic teams, and instead focus on debate, MUN, or science olympiad. We only started history bowl 3 years ago at my school and I started quizbowl last year, while some of the other clubs have been around since the 70s. So the problem you describe may extend further than just NYC proper.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby insohumniac » Thu Sep 21, 2017 6:00 pm

monty wrote:The same can be said about many places in the Tri-State area. While there are a ton of suburban school teams, many still are reluctant to form academic teams, and instead focus on debate, MUN, or science olympiad.


I feel like I have some obligation to weigh in on this. Delaware has long had its issues with participation in quiz bowl, and having done outreach over the past few months, I have begun to notice a few different trends among the schools in Delaware, specifically. The last time Delaware had more than 5 or so active schools was around 2009, when Charter won nationals. Since then, the high schools in the state have been quite reluctant to play in any tournaments, and in the same vein as New Jersey and New York, chosen to focus on activities like Science Olympiad and MUN. Part of the issue remains how members of the community target new schools, and how they market quizbowl in general. While New York City is a great example in particular, it may be in our best interests to apply these observations to any area where quizbowl can expand (and this is something we can help each other with), as per Montagu's observation. Delaware may not be the best comparison to New York, but the issues in my state might provide some insight into the issues New York is facing. Last year, there were only three schools which played pyramidal quizbowl in the entire state. Two of those schools went to HSNCT, one of them for the first time. Ever since 2009, there has been a trend of decrease in the number of teams attending the State Championship, when it was held. The only exception to that trend was the last State Championship tournament, held in 2015, where there were 7 teams from 3 schools, of which, only two schools remain (both sent 3 teams). The appeal in any activity should not be to win trophies or awards, but unfortunately, that is how most schools prioritize funding. In Delaware especially, where there are no regional tournaments for activities like Science Olympiad, funding is easier to come by when there is enough interest in attending a statewide (or in the case of NYC, a city-wide) tournament which attracts more than 50 teams. The logistics behind such a tournament would require that several buildings of a college campus be used, which is certainly not impossible, but would require significant planning, and may create issues that schools in Delaware will probably never need to worry about, such as finding parking space. Changing involvement in the game involves changing the way the game is perceived, and when new schools play at tournaments against established teams, losses become more demoralizing, and participation rates go down. The growing number of tournaments giving "new to quizbowl discounts" serves as a promising example of how schools can attract teams to tournaments, but the goal should be to keep teams coming to tournaments.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby cchiego » Thu Sep 21, 2017 6:59 pm

First of all, I would like to make one thing clear: quizbowl doesn’t necessarily have a cities problem. 10% of Americans live in our 20 most populous cities. Keeping this statistic in mind and using the PACE NSC as an example, it follows that a field of 96 teams should have around 9-10 teams from these 20 cities. In 2017, there were 13 such teams from 11 schools, meaning cities were actually slightly overrepresented. Therefore, this is not a thread on quizbowl in urban areas, as I don’t feel I have enough expertise to write such a thread. My major point is that I think that (from my modest perspective) quizbowl has a New York City problem.

Most of those schools (I think you may have overcounted too; I get 9 schools since the Detroit ones are notably not actually in Detroit itself) come from two cities: San Diego (where you can draw a neat line from La Jolla to Torrey Pines to Canyon Crest to Cathedral to Westview without passing through another school and only La Jolla is part of the San Diego City schools) and Houston. Since SD is a bit of an outlier and we can't replicate Chris Romero and place him at a Catholic school in every major American city, I do think that quizbowl has an urban problem. Notably, Los Angeles and Chicago have almost no participation.

It’s not difficult to name the nationally-recognized schools without quizbowl. On the public side, we have Brooklyn Tech, HSAS Lehman, Staten Island Tech, LaGuardia, Beacon, Townsend Harris, Eleanor Roosevelt, HSMSE@CCNY, and BHSEC Queens. On the private side, we have St. Ann’s, Packer, Horace Mann, Riverdale, Trevor Day, Dalton, Collegiate, and Poly Prep. There are dozens more schools in New York of intense rigor which are ripe for quizbowl. Our aim should be to put a team in each one of these schools.

These are fine to target, but I would be very careful about assuming that these are the only ones to target. You never know where you'll find a potentially dedicated player or coach and you won't know unless you cast a wide net. I've also found that elite prep schools tend to be some of the least-responsive schools to outreach.

and when new schools play at tournaments against established teams, losses become more demoralizing, and participation rates go down.

This, along with the collapse of the Comcast-sponsored TV tournament, is almost certainly the explanation for Delaware. The best way to get around the "one new school shows up to get stomped and is never seen again" phenomenon is to have focused outreach efforts that direct new teams to appropriate tournaments, discounts for new-to-quizbowl schools, and strict eligibility on novice divisions. There might also be a need for some tactful restraint on the part of powerhouses in terms of choosing which tournaments to attend.

Another reason so many teams have died is in part due to a lack of dedicated sponsors. For whatever reason, teams in NYC seem to be more student-led, which is great in the short term but bad for the long-term survival of clubs. Get sponsors and make sure they get integrated into the quizbowl community (and thanked for all they do!). See if you can't tap into the city district's office or the archdiocese or some of the charter networks to get teams started with official support.

You also have to think about this as a numbers game. I get about a 4-5% response rate on personalized, targeted outreach emails and of those about half end up becoming teams/quizbowl attendees. That said, if you keep doing outreach campaigns every year and hit 300-400 schools (which is totally doable for NYC itself and the inner metro area), that works out to a pretty decent number over a few years! Good to see that NYC might be waking up to quizbowl and best of luck with all your efforts.
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Re: The Current State of New York City Quizbowl

Postby nycaqb1999 » Fri Jan 12, 2018 6:51 pm

I'm reviving this thread because I am about to find myself with quite a bit of time on my hands as a senior spring semester, and I don't want to jump ship on this (also because I saw that there are two other threads exactly like this so I was reminded of this). To reply directly to Chris, I think that general outreach emails are a great idea, and something I'll try and jump on after my finals are over. Persuading schools to fund a new club is always challenging, but I believe that as QB's profile grows this should become less and less of a problem. Also, I will be wary of targeting some schools over others, as sometimes great teams do pop up out of unexpected places.

Anyhoo, things have changed a tad in NYC since I wrote the original post: Dalton's MS team has graduated into an HS team, which is exciting, and Columbia Secondary now has a team as well. Also, we have three NYC schools attending HSNCT, which by my (amateur) research is a record. Most importantly, NYC teams, as a whole, have been performing very, very well on the circuit, and I hope this trend continues.

In terms of an NYC captain's association (which would have a damn cool logo), I'll try reaching out to people after finals, since things are currently incredibly hectic. Hopefully such an org would do the same great work that other associations have done in other circuits, especially in terms of outreach. I'm also looking into coaching a team at my old MS, and we'll see how that pans out. Also, replying to Sohum, perhaps a NYC championship is feasible, but there's a lot of logistical stuff that needs to be ironed out there.

Finally, it has come to my attention that Westchester County is a major NAC stronghold, and therefore has almost no teams playing pyramidal QB. This area is potentially ripe for expansion, and I hope that some efforts can be made there as well.
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